Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Mary Holzhauer (left) and Liz Shuhan (right) perform at a benefit concert to upgrade school bomb shelters in Ukraine, at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, on Feb. 19.

February 20, 2023

Concert for Ukraine Raises More Than $5,000 for School Bomb Shelter

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It was standing room only for Music for Ukraine, a benefit concert and art auction hosted by the Ithaca Rotary Club to raise money for an upgraded school bomb shelter in Lviv, Ukraine. Sunday’s concert and bomb shelter, held at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, raised $5,100 for the cause.

“The Rotary Club is really dedicated both to international efforts to do good, and also to do good in our own community,” said Ithaca Rotary Club President Mary Kane. “This concert allows us to do both of those things at the same time, which is a very exciting concept.”

Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of the major escalation in the Russian-Ukrainian War, which Western intelligence sources have estimated has caused 150,000 casualties on each side and displaced millions of Ukrainians. Though the concert was not planned specifically to fall on the anniversary, organizers said that ongoing attention as the war continues to advance is more important than ever.

“Having been in Ukraine, I’ve never looked at it, like, one year, whatever. It’s just always been various levels of turmoil,” said organizer and associate vice president of Cornell’s Office of Community Relations Gary Stewart. “There’s no significance in [the one-year anniversary]. It’s more like we’re in this position, and we’re in this well-connected international organization. And we know people over there which personalizes the relationship even more.”

The Ithaca Rotary Club has met with members of a Rotary Club chapter in Lviv who identified school bomb shelters as a top fundraising priority. Starting in November, the Club began an effort to raise $31,000 to upgrade a high school bomb shelter to integrate permanent toilets, portable heaters, comfortable benches, projectors, WiFi and board games — a fundraising goal they were able to accomplish in two months. Cornell University donated $1,000 for this cause, according to Stewart.

Now, the Club is raising $65,000 to rebuild and furnish the bomb shelter at School #95, which is Lviv’s flagship school for inclusive education and enrolls 47 children with disabilities and special education needs.

“The bomb shelter is just some long hallways. They want to tear down some walls, create a classroom and gymnasium, upgrade the bathrooms and add comfortable benches. They want to put in a projector and a screen and add Wi-Fi,” said communications chair of the Ithaca Rotary Club Sherrie Negrea. “Several Rotary Clubs are coming together to raise the money, and we’re one of them. So whatever we raise in the concert will go towards this particular school bomb shelter project.”

The benefit concert featured 41 musicians from Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, Ithaca Community Orchestra, Opus Ithaca School of Music and the Kendal at Ithaca Chorus. The groups performed four pieces that were created by Ukrainian composers, including “Oh the Red Viburnum in the Meadow,” a Ukrainian patriotic song, “Fantasia on the Ukrainian Bell Carol,” “Flute Sonata, Movement 1” by Ukrainian composer Sergei Prokofiev and the Ukrainian national anthem.

Also performing in the concert was composer and pianist Emmanuel Sikora, who has worked with orchestras in Lviv and gave his concerto debut with the Ukrainian Festival Orchestra in 2021. Flutist and organizer Negrea has three Ukrainian grandparents, one of whom was born in Lviv.

During intermission, attendees were able to bid in a silent auction for artwork created by 10 local artists and two gift cards from local businesses. A few of the artists created their pieces in inspiration of Ukraine. 

Painter Annemiek Haralson said she created her piece “Sunflowers and Blue Skies” at the start of the Russian-Ukrainian War because she felt helpless and angry, but wanted to still create something with beauty. Bulgarian violinist and painter Irina Kassabova said that having lived in a small eastern European country that transitioned away from Soviet rule, she feels close to the people of Ukraine and the faith and hardships they are experiencing.

“This is really just a small thing that a group of dedicated volunteers can do from very far away to make a difference in the lives of children every day, who are besieged,” Kane said. “It’s both an emotional commitment and a practical commitment to helping those who really deserve and need our help.”

In addition to the $5,100 raised at Sunday’s concert, the Ithaca Rotary Club has received $4,500 in sponsorships and corporate or personal donations to support School #95. Kane said she expects the total donations to rise as they receive more donations through March 15.

“This is amazing to have achieved, and we’re grateful to every community member who attended. And of course, to every musician and artist who donated their talent,” Kane wrote in a statement to The Sun following the concert.